The poems in Peter Davison's exuberant new collection contemplate the paradox of growing old--of having a mind still "a juicy swamp of invention" in a body beginning to falter.
Both intimate and generous, these poems celebrate the cycle of the seasons, of death and rebirth: snapping turtles lay their eggs and new ones hatch; a ruffed grouse drums his spring mating dance. Memory is central: a mother's lost face; a father's voice that "plumbed the marrow of poetry as tenderly / as if a darling had crept into his arms"; a wife's "rueful eyes, cornflower blue." And the poet pays tribute to the literary life--to reading, to the precise moment a word rises to consciousness, to getting over Robert Frost, to the mind of Sylvia Plath.
These are poems that expand time for us and deepen place, whether Davison is taking us on a path along a limestone cliff under canopies of holly and ivy, or is revisiting the instant while recovering from surgery when it becomes clear he is going to heal. "To learn poetry," Davison writes in his foreword, "we need to take poems into our breath and blood, and that requires us to hear them as we read them, to learn to read with all the senses, especially with the ear." Breathing Room gives us a splendid array of poems that we want to read with all our senses.
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July 10, 2012
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Excerpt from Breathing Room by Peter Davison
The buds let fly a pungent spring flavor,
and the sunlight fanned across
the bare ground for unperching.
Restlessness crept in, a necklace
around the male's long neck, below where
his beak would open to sing,
if he were the kind to sing. His
back gathered itself to lengthen and
widen. He needed more room now
and soon found it in a clearing he had been
keeping his eye on, with a
hollow log planted at one edge.
Now he had to wait only a day or two
until something in the air called, Time!
before he'd start to grow. His clawed toes prepared to
tick on the leaves, his strut to shorten. His
hidden shoulders would soon begin their
burgeoning, beyond wings, into the
great hissing ruff. The tail would stiffen, and within
his chest new lungs would at last open. Now
his pace would march him
strut by strut toward the hidden music, to
mount the hollow log, shuffle
his feathered feet, and drum drum drum
drum drum till the whole forest shuddered.